A first-time homebuyer’s guide to managing emotions when making life’s most stressful purchase

A first-time homebuyer’s guide to managing emotions when making life’s most stressful purchase

Buying a home is without a doubt an emotional decision. Your home is where family traditions will come to life, lifelong memories will be formed and you’ll pass countless nights breaking bread with friends and loved ones. On top of the immense pride that comes from having a place to call your own, it’s also a large chunk of change to throw down for many, the biggest purchase they will make in their lives. The whole experience can lead even the steeliest among us to feel flustered. An American study by Homes.com discovered that 40 percent of participants said buying a home was the “most stressful event in modern life.”
It’s normal to let emotions, intuition, or “a gut feeling” guide you to “the one.” But it can also lead you astray if you fail to consider the logical side your budget, the property value, resale value, and keeping your non-negotiable checklist in mind.
To help keep the right side and left side of the brain in balance, Livabl spoke to Toronto-based real estate agent Roger Travassos and Toronto-based psychologist Dr. Mariyam Ahmed for advice while you navigate the homebuyer feels.
Photo: rentalstowealth/Instagram

Why the emotional roller coaster? A psychologist explains.

“Any time people are facing a change or transition, it can bring up a whole host of emotions. Buying a home is certainly a transition,” explains Dr. Ahmed. “If you find yourself feeling stressed or worried, don’t judge yourself negatively. It’s important to acknowledge and validate your emotions”.
A symbolic milestone: “A lot of times there is a sense of pressure from a social or cultural perspective because homeownership is considered to be such a milestone,” explains Dr. Ahmed. “Whether we’re looking at it as a financial goal that you have met or it represents a relationship moving forwards or beginning your family”.
Identify your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors: “We can essentially break down any situation into three components: our thoughts (how we’re perceiving a situation), our emotions (how we feel), and our behavior (what we do),” says Dr. Ahmed. “You can use this framework for home buying. If you notice heightened emotions, ask yourself what thought is associated with that emotion. Say, for example, you’re feeling anxious. The thought behind the feeling could be “I can’t afford this house.” Revisiting your finances might help you come up with another perspective. You’re not necessarily looking for a positive or negative perspective, but to have a balanced and realistic outlook,” explains Dr. Ahmed.
How much is your past history impacting your decision?: “Our memories and our past experiences positive and negative shape our beliefs, our thoughts, and how we approach a specific situation,” explains Dr. Ahmed. “So they can certainly have an influence on a variety of factors when we’re looking at a property from likes and dislikes to our financial decisions. It’s helpful to be aware of the extent our histories are influencing our decisions and if they are still relevant for us today.”
Communicating with your partner: “Make sure you’re having an open and honest discussion with your partner and sharing why it’s important to you,” suggests Dr. Ahmed. “This is where previous beliefs and family histories can come up. I often see people become very alarmed when there is a difference of opinion. Remember, you are both unique individuals with two different experiences in life. It’s okay to state a difference of opinion. Express your viewpoint and be willing to hear your partner’s perspective.”
Photo: James Bombales

Establish your non-negotiable checklist with your Realtor®

When I meet with clients, the first thing I’ll do is sit down and discover what matters most to them what their five must-haves are, and the absolute non-negotiables,” explains Travassos. “I try to get a good sense of their lifestyle and what’s important to them. Are they an artist who needs an extra room in the house for a studio? How long are they planning to live there? What is the commute like?”
Establishing your needs will help your Realtor® narrow down appropriate homes but it will also keep you in check at a viewing. Travassos recommends holding on to your list but not too tight. You might discover that your needs will adapt and change as you go through the home-buying process.
“I’ve found some of my clients discover what’s most important to them when they go through homes. Sometimes people will say location is the most important thing and then they’ll fall for a home that’s further away but crosses everything else on their list. I’ll always say, ‘This isn’t in the area you wanted. What changed? How will this impact your lifestyle?”
The layout is gorgeous and sure, your Christmas tree will look amazing in that corner of the living room but is it worth pulling your kids out of their current school district?
If you have a real estate agent who never asks questions, be concerned. “I can show the value in a house but I’m also not afraid to go to the other side and point out important things that might be missing,” explains Travassos.
Photo: James Bombales

Do your homework

Emotions can lead you to pay more for a house than you can realistically afford. It can also cause you to lowball to the point where you miss out on house after house. The best defense is to understand the average selling price for the specific neighborhood or even street that you’re looking at.
“I show my clients all the numbers what similar homes in the neighborhood sold for, how much above asking and how many days it sat on the market,” explains Travassos. “But ultimately, the home is worth whatever the person pays for it. I will always ask my clients what the home is worth to them. Because in the end, they’re the ones who need to walk away from it feeling like they made the right decision and that it’s worth what they paid for”.
If you find yourself in a bidding war, make sure you establish your cut-off price before you begin.
“When we feel anxious or stressed, our fight or flight response is activated,” explains Dr. Ahmed. “Behaviorally, we could freeze or act impulsively. Planning beforehand will help you avoid making an impulsive decision during a bidding war. I suggest having a discussion with your partner or your support network to outline what you will do if you’re up against multiple bids in advance”.

How many homes should you look at before you decide?

Popular wisdom would say you should view at least five homes before you make a decision.
“I don’t recommend a certain number of houses. My guide for that is always the client,” explains Travassos. “If I have a client who is really unsure or they have a fear of making the right or wrong decision, they’ll often ask me if a better house will come up. When they say this, I know they don’t know the market well enough. For some clients, it takes time. Sometimes you meet people who are very confident and sure of what they want. You walk into a property that checks every box and you know they’re ready”.
Photo: James Bombales

Sure, you love it. But will other people when it’s time to sell?

It’s important that you love the home you’ll be the one living there, after all. But you should always think about the resale value. Travassos makes sure he doesn’t have any concerns if he had to sell the house the next day. “If I do, I’ll ask if they are a concern for the client as well,” he says.
For example, you might require a two-bedroom but find a three-bedroom in the same price range. If it’s a short-term investment, you might want to consider looking for a house with an extra room to avoid narrowing your buying pool.

Don’t let the decor cloud your judgment.

If a home is particularly dark, cluttered, and dated, it can be tough to keep your emotions from screaming a big hell no. But when you’re working with a tighter budget, being open to the diamond in the rough can give you a competitive edge.
“So long as the house checks all the other boxes, I try to walk my clients through it, demonstrate the value, and give solutions so they can see it differently,” explains Travassos.
A few tins of white paint can work wonders on those dark kitchen cabinets.
On the other hand, don’t be fooled by the finest features and finishes. If the home fails to meet your must-haves, the fancy faucets and stunning marble island won’t keep the long-term annoyances from piling up in a home that’s impractical for you.
Photo: katrinamalaiba/Instagram

There are always more fish in the sea houses on the market.

House hunting is exhausting, and after a few lost offers, you might want to settle for a house you know isn’t right for you or go over budget. Travassos reminds his clients that there are always other houses and you can’t let FOMO (the fear of missing out) cloud your judgment.
“It’s okay to move on,” he says. “Every single client I’ve ever worked with has lost out at one point. But when they do close on a house, I’ve never once heard them say they wish they got the other one instead.”

Remember that sellers are people too, and they’re also feeling all the feels.

A personal touch can go a long way in helping with negotiations. Remember, sellers are people too, and putting their home on the market has likely inspired a roller coaster of emotions, as well.
“I’ve worked with sellers who weren’t willing to budge on the price but then got a personal letter from a client, felt a connection to them and became more willing to negotiate,” says Travassos.

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